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Hey Empty-Nesters: It’s Time To Rethink Car Ownership
by Bradley B. • May 6, 2019

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Empty-Nesters, It’s Time To Rethink Car Ownership

Raising a family requires a lot of driving. There’s the burden of a commute, getting kids to school, and schlepping them (and their bulging backpacks and gear) to soccer practice, after-school lessons, and social activities. When gangly teenagers reach driving age, the typical two-car family might take on an extra vehicle for an even busier fleet of family vehicles in constant flux.

And then faster than you ever realized, poof, the kids fly the coop and everything changes—including your previously frantic transportation schedule. Empty-nesters suddenly no longer need a driveway full of family-haulers. That’s the time to rethink your stable of vehicles and what it means for your pocketbook and new lifestyle.

Mobility Options

Here’s a case where parents can learn a lot from their kids. Baby-boomers can take a page from the Millennial playbook and consider how access often beats ownership, especially as it relates to mobility. Why take on a big car payment and all the expense of maintaining and insuring a vehicle that barely gets used?

Young urban adults, prior to starting a family, enjoy an unprecedented selection of mobility options including ride-hailing, public transit, and private work shuttles. Many of today’s cities and towns are designed with expanded roadway access for bicycles and scooters (both owned or shared on-demand.) Telecommuting for a day or two a week is commonplace.

San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and Philadelphia are examples of vanguard cities where so-called car-free and car-light households dramatically increased between 2012 and 2017. Some experts forecast that new shared mobility options and self-driving technology will lead to an 80-percent drop in car ownership by 2030.

Parents might fantasize about trading in a minivan for a long-coveted two-seat sports car or cushy luxury ride. But that’s old-school thinking that ignores the mobility revolution underway. And it overlooks the opportunities and, sorry to say, ongoing responsibilities of parenthood that continues into the empty-nesting years.

Does it really make sense to make a long-term investment in an expensive vehicle just as hefty college-tuition bills start arriving and the need to catch up on retirement savings is kicking into high gear?

Empty Rooms and Idle Cars

Buying and maintaining a car is second only to home ownership as a large monthly expense. That’s why empty nesters after a year or more of shouldering a high mortgage or monthly rent start to wonder if it’s time to downsize from a house with rooms that don’t get used. When the kids leave home, folks want to seize on a new sense of freedom by reducing debt, avoiding wasted time and expense in upkeep, and traveling more.

The same holds for transportation. Even before retirement, empty nesters who turn away from heavy car use can save money, get more exercise, and rediscover their community with more walking and biking. The transition also brings the social and environmental benefits of less congestion and reduced emissions.

Moreover, changing what’s in your garage is part of the broader psychological and economic shift from being a mom or dad—to a more footloose and fancy-free life. That’s antithetical to a 60-month car loan or even a 36-month auto lease.

Don’t Buy, Subscribe

Few empty nesters are likely to make a full 180-degree turn and entirely ditch their cars. And given new economic models for car ownership, a drastic change isn’t necessary.

One attractive new option is a car subscription—a single, all-inclusive monthly fee for the car, insurance, registration, and repairs. A car subscription is all about the flexibility that empty nesters are seeking. Canvas, a leading auto subscription service, allows users to subscribe to a wide range of vehicles and brands for as short as a single month, although the best deals are for a year or longer.

A 12-month subscription leaves an empty nester’s options wide open about what vehicle will be needed a year from now. Access to a vehicle today no longer creates a disincentive to travel or move.

Canvas allows you to switch cars—for example, from an SUV to a sports car and back—as often as you like. A subscription also means that you can swap vehicles without paying fees to break a lease or take a financial hit if you need to sell or ship a car.

The flexibility provided by a car subscription brings the added benefit of saving money. A dealership might dangle a low monthly car-loan payment or lease to “get you behind the wheel,” but those attractive prices rarely include the cost of financing or the biggest unaccounted expense: depreciation. The minute you drive off the dealership lot, you’ve lost thousands of dollars. Like a lease—but with more transparency and greater flexibility—a subscription avoids the mistake of investing in a depreciating asset.

Best of all, a car subscription saves time. You choose a car online and pick it up from a local dealer in a matter of minutes. There’s no wasted hours haggling over prices or signing reams of paper. Why lose a single minute of the extra time that you’re enjoying as an empty nester?

Cars are supposed to be about greater mobility and freedom, not an extra burden. That’s especially true for empty nesters only beginning to appreciate what they’ve accomplished in raising children into adulthood—and what’s possible in the years to come.